Is State College a Scam?

Posted by - Thursday, February 16th, 2012

For the average student, the main thought when applying to colleges is, “Will I get in?”

But what they should be thinking is, “Can I afford it?”

Tuition costs have been rising steadily for years, and just because a student agrees to pay one price upon acceptance doesn’t mean that will hold for four years.

A report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) showed that state universities have been raising their costs, and not always just in accordance with inflation rates. Schools in Virginia were some of the worst culprits.

Christopher Newport, one of these Virginia schools, raised student costs 50% since 2004. Other schools were close to that.

And a lot of it has to do with packing on administrative positions. Schools are hiring an excess of employees and raising costs to afford it.

From ACTA:

Increases in college costs might be defensible if they were going strictly to improve instructional quality, but that is hardly the case. Instead, a growing share of school funds is going to pay for layers and layers of administration. Some support staff are integral to the process of instruction. However, the long-term trend nationwide is very clear: from 1976-2005, the ratio of non-instructional staff to students in American colleges and universities more than doubled. (emphasis ours)

Other schools are constructing new buildings, while plenty of the classrooms already go unused.

Shawn Whalen of San Francisco State recommends that prospective students investigate the trend of tuition increases at colleges:

“The students planned for college and got here on one set of financial assumptions, only to find out that the game changes every year. I think one of the biggest shocks is when students come in as freshman and a semester later there’s a fee increase.”

But even worse is that according to the ACTA report, roughly 50% of college students have no intellectual growth in the first two years, and 36% have very little after a total of four years.

Even with continual tuition hikes, overall education is not improving.

Instead, money goes to extra employees, superfluous construction, and even clubs and activities, from which few students gain.

And the price changes are actually hurting students paying their own way through college.

Rebekah Phillips works hard to keep up with tuition at San Francisco State University, and she told the New York Times:

“Right now, I’m trying to apply for as many scholarships as I can. I can fall behind on the books a little bit. But I need to find $600 for tuition.”

It’s become a balancing act, and students end up sacrificing their education, the one thing colleges are supposed to be encouraging.

Reason's A. Barton Hinkle suggests the following:

First, a tuition rollback and freeze like that enacted a decade ago is in order. Second, state lawmakers should put some teeth into the Institutional Performance Standards monitored by SCHEV. Colleges that aren’t using their available building space already, for instance, shouldn’t build new classrooms and labs. Third, restructure financial aid. Giving students more money does them no good if colleges just jack up tuition accordingly.

Fourth: Ax the costly frills...student activity fees that run to several hundred dollars subsidize activities that benefit very few students. The vast majority of college sports teams are unwatched money losers.

"Parents should be more hard-nosed about the country-club atmospheres colleges use to compete for applicants, Hinkle notes. "This year tuition and fees at the state’s four-year colleges will jump almost 10 percent. Anyone think students will get a 10 percent better education in return?"

We think not...

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